Charles Chaput: American Catholic Prelate Rejects Separation of Chruch and State
Some portions of the American Catholic Church are truly losing their way in this election campaign. As if the child abuse and molestations cases sweeping the country are not enough for them to grapple with, some prelates have decided to flex their religious/political muscle in expansive and intrusive ways they never have before. The New York Times reported this week that a right-wing Los Angeles Catholic filed a case calling for John Kerry’s excommunication from the Church.
I know something about being excommunicated from one’s religion. In 1983, I was an early member of New Jewish Agenda, a national group which embraced a two state solution to the Israeli-Paletinian conflict and gay rights. A rump group of 13 Orthodox rabbis met in one of their homes in rural Massachussets and solemnly declared all NJA members formally excommunicated from Judaism. At the time, we viewed these shnenanigans as a badge of honor. After all, wasn’t Baruch Spinoza, the great medieval philosopher, also excommunicated from the Amsterdam Jewish community?
But what’s being proposed here is much more pernicious and disturbing than the obscure antics of a few non-representative Orthodox rabbis.
Now Archbishop Chaput comes along with the extraordinary statement that the separation of church and state, a foundation principle of the U.S. Constitution is an “empty slogan,” “dishonest and ultimately dangerous…” Here’s what he actually wrote in Faith and Patriotism:
I hear lectures [that] Roman Catholics must not “impose their beliefs on society” or warnings about the need for “the separation of church and state.” These are two of the emptiest slogans in current American politics, intended to discourage serious debate. No one in mainstream American politics wants a theocracy. Nor does anyone doubt the importance of morality in public life. Therefore, we should recognize these slogans for what they are: frequently dishonest and ultimately dangerous sound bites.
Here is a further shocking quotation which equates public figures like Kerry who endorse a woman’s right to choose with “abortionists” themselves:
Catholics [who] take a “pro-choice” view toward abortion contradict our identity and make us complicit in how the choice plays out. The “choice” in abortion always involves the choice to end the life of an unborn human being. For anyone who sees this fact clearly, neutrality, silence or private disapproval are not options. They are evils almost as grave as abortion itself.
To me, this comes chillingly close to the contention by right to lifers during the 1990s that doctors who performed abortions were murderers whose murder could be thereby morally justified.
Chaput continues with the specious argument that what those who favor choice somehow wish to deprive Catholics of their right to participate in the national debate over abortion. He posits a dubious bogeyman who wishes to “exile religion from civic debate.”
Given America’s history of anti-Catholic nativism, Catholics strongly support the Constitution’s approach to religious freedom. But the Constitution does not, nor was it ever intended to, prohibit people or communities of faith from playing an active role in public life. Exiling religion from civic debate separates government from morality and citizens from their consciences.
What’s odd about this statement is that no one in this country stakes a claim to such a position. So (as the Brits would say) what’s he on about?? Beats me.
Chaput continues with another extraordinary and disturbing admission:
Claiming that “we don’t want to impose our beliefs on society” is not merely politically convenient; it is morally incoherent and irresponsible.
In other words, what the good archbishop is telling us is that “yes, we do want to impose our beliefs on society because we believe that they are the only truly moral and correct ones in this debate.” OK, at least we know where we stand with this politically ambitious and aggrandizing moral charlatan.
Earlier in the column he justified Catholic legislative pressure to outlaw abortion with this statement:
Lawmaking inevitably involves some group imposing its beliefs on the rest of us. That’s the nature of the democratic process. If we say that we “ought” to do something, we are making a moral judgment. When our legislators turn that judgment into law, somebody’s ought becomes a “must” for the whole of society. This is not inherently dangerous; it’s how pluralism works.
So if the Catholic Church succeeds in outlawing abortion with laws that violate my interpretation of my own religion, Judaism, then my good man Chaput says: “tough luck buddy, that’s the price of democracy.”
All I have to say to that is: Sir, that’s not my definition of democracy and I will fight with ‘all my heart, all my soul, and all my might’ to prevent your views from becoming the law of the land. All Archbishop Chaput has done here in this article is lay out the Church’s aggressive, supremely intolerant agenda for the next four years in ways that will deeply offend and arouse those who are not aware of their plans.
The archbishop also neglects to say in this column that he and other extreme right-wing Catholics have been stridently lobbying their parishoners to vote against John Kerry. In some cases, they tell them that such a vote would be a mortal sin that must be confessed to a priest. To me, that’s downright extraordinary and oppressive. It makes me ever so happy I was born a Jew. In our religion, no one including a rabbi has a right to tell me how to be a Jew or that such a thing is a sin. We Jews (except Orthodox Jews) are granted the right to define our religious beliefs and practices for ourselves without the interference of our spiritual leaders.
Finally, what Chaput omits from his analysis is his effort to essentially “criminalize” (at least in the eyes of the Church) Catholic politicians who neglect to toe the “party” line in this debate. Though I have not specifically heard him say this, Chaput undoubtedly supports the effort to excommunicate Kerry. This is an odious and extremely intemperate position which should and must be opposed by Catholic laypeople and spiritual leaders of good conscience. Otherwise, hatred and mistrust of the Church will increase exponentially among non-Catholics. Is that truly what Chaput wants? I sincerely hope not (but I’d bet that when it comes down to it, he really doesn’t much care what non-Catholics think of the Church).
I’ve also written a post about Archbishop John Myers of Newark, who’s denied communion to Democratic politicians like the governor, who are pro-choice.
For those who’d like to read a far different interpretation of Roman Catholicism, I invite you to visit Pax Christi USA, which just released Life Does Not End at Birth: Catholics Called to Vote for the Common Good.
17 thoughts on “Charles Chaput: American Catholic Prelate Rejects Separation of Chruch and State – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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I think you are exaggerating the ‘separation of church and state’ argument. The [Catholic] Church does not want to become a state-santionced religion in any country.
I would like to suggest you consider the importance of free will in the Catholic doctrine. It is the foundation of almost everything. I grant that from your point of view, how could you know about it? You’re not a Catholic. 🙂 However, without free will to choose God [such as in a state-sanctioned religion], the beliefs are hollow and meaningless. Consider the underground Orthodox Christians in the former Soviet Union or the currently underground Chinese Christians. Despite the danger of belief, they choose God because their governments cannot remove free will.
Archbishop Chaput’s column on 10/22 is written to Catholics, who mistakenly think that political correctness trumps Catholic apologetics.
The tradition of apologetics is that Christians publicly defend their views of the divine origin and authority of Christianity. However, over the past 20 years of misguided political correctness, many Catholics remove themselves from public discourse out of fear of angering the those who do not share our beliefs. The Archbishop is speaking to these folks and telling them that it’s not acceptable.
Here’s a quote from the Archbishop’s 10/22 column that you may have missed:
The laws against stealing are an example. All countries have such laws. In most of them, they were justified first on religious or moral grounds, as in ‘thou shall not steal’.
I wonder what our legal system would look like with out ‘imposing beliefs’?
Finally, I must note that not all laws are just or moral [such as abortion].
Since you have tried to state your views respectfully to me though you know we disagree, I will do the same…though our differences are huge.
The Catholic Church is, if not a state-sanctioned religion, a dominant religion in many societies such as Latin America. Though Jews do live in Catholic dominant countries, I know they do so warily & on tip toes since these nations neither accommodate nor welcome such diversity. And Catholicism IS the only religion in Vatican City, which considers itself a state I believe. These may be small quibbles, but nontheless significant.
Many religions observe the concept of free will & you make a mistake in believing as a Jew I would not understand the concept. This is a very important concept in Judaism. We Jews certainly know as well or perhaps better than Catholics what it means to choose our religion over life itself in the millions of cases in which Jews have chosen, throughout history, to honor their religious beliefs rather than those of whatever tyrant happened to be in power (& they often paid the price in blood).
I think it’s preposterous to say there are Catholics who were afraid to propound their views within our society because they are in a minority or because they diverge from a politically correct mainstream viewpt. Jews are a far smaller minority than Catholics and we certainly have paid a price for expressing views that diverged from the majority in various societies in which we have found ourselves. If any religious group would want to be circumspect it should be ours. But American Jews are not intimidated in any way from participating in political discourse. So why in heaven’s name would a Catholic feel that way? TO me this argument sounds like a red herring or at the least bogus.
Regarding the Chaput quotation you commend to my attention, you may not have fully read my post (admittedly it was quite long), but I certainly did read & in fact quote this passage in my post. This particular quotation from the column is deeply pernicious in my eyes (you should reread that section of my post) because it essentially says, “we will exert our political power & influence as aggressively as we can to overturn Roe v. Wade. The fact that other individuals or groups may feel strongly or violently opposed to us is of no concern to me & should not be of concern to Catholics.” I find this statement deeply offensive in a democratic society. The idea must not be to impose my will or the will of my group on an unwilling majority. That smacks of tyranny, not democracy.
Furthermore, here’s another serious problem I have with Chaput’s abortion comments. He speaks as if Roe v. Wade directly “imposes” itself upon him in some way as if it forced him to do evil (like undergoing an abortion). In this statement, he makes a major error. Roe v. Wade certainly does NOT force Catholics to get abortions. It only enables those, including Catholics should they wish, who want an aboriton to get one. I know that even this is evil to Chaput & conservative Catholics. But believe me, from my own Jewish history I know what it is like to have a religion imposed upon you that is not your own: Antiochus forced Jews to eat pig in order to humiliate them after his victory in the Maccabbean period. 15th Spanish Catholics forced Jews to convert to Catholicism or die. Forcing someone to do something that violates their religious precepts is indeed horrible. But as I said, Catholics are only forced to allow others to undergo abortions & this is a major & critical distinction that Chaput conveniently ignores in his column.
I disagree with your statement that Chaput’s column was intended for a Catholic audience. If it was, he should’ve published in a Catholic publication. Publishing in the NYT, causes you to reach huge numbers of non-Catholics. That’s why, I believe, Chaput tried to put as mild & benevolent spin upon his views as he could (largely unsuccessfully to my mind). If you are right & he DID intend only to reach Catholics, then he made an odd choice in where he published.
Finally, I too have a moral code as you do. Much of my moral code probably derives from my religious upbringing as is probably true for you. But the difference between Catholicism & Judaism is that in general (& there are some unfortunate exceptions) Jews abhor imposing their moral beliefs on anyone including other Jews. Contrarily, Catholicism seems to have no compunction in forcing behavioral & theological conformity on Catholics &, in the case of abortion, on non-Catholics as well. I find this deeply unsettling.
Certainly some laws are informed by morality. But not all moral values are shared equally in all religions. Should I, as a Jew who destests eating pork, organize Jews into lobbying Washington to outlaw the raising & eating of pork for all Americans? I am profoundly uncomfortable with the Catholic (& this includes fundamentalist born again Christians as well) attempt to impose a Catholic (or born again) moral perspective on our nation’s laws. I want laws that members of all U.S. religions & groups can observe as much as possible without a feeling of duress. So right now, you & Chaput feel that you are placed under duress in a nation in which Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. But in your dream system, I would be under duress because I want my wife, my daughter & those I love to have the right to an abortion should they want one. And my religion upholds a woman’s right to an abortion (though admittedly some Orthodox Jews believe, in the interpretation of Judaism, that the religion opposes abortion–you see ours is a varied, diverse & sometimes confusing system). Losing that right would be deeply pernicious & offensive to me.
So as you go about trying to make the Catholic position the law of the land, pls. try to remember those of us who would feel deeply hurt & angry if you got your way.
If you wish to reply, I welcome your doing so. If you can, I’d encourage you to leave your comment on my blog post itself so it may spark discussion in the blog.
>>>>But American Jews are not intimidated in any way from participating in political discourse. So why in heaven’s name would a Catholic feel that way? TO me this argument sounds like a red herring or at the least bogus.<<<